‘F!!ck Your Formula’: Elastic’s Aaron Perlut shares how data and disruptive content can help your business get noticed

By Jim James, Founder EASTWEST PR and Host of The UnNoticed Podcast.

A former Fleishman Hillard executive, Aaron Perlut co-founded Elasticity 12 years ago. The brand marketing firm addresses a wide range of business problems — including driving up sales, resolving issues related to their clients’ fiduciary responsibilities, and managing reputation, among others. 

Image from Aaron Perlut’s website

Everything is Data-Driven

For Elasticity, every problem begins with data. They try to infuse data with everything, from understanding the audience, developing creative solutions, to reaching the right people. Data can be used to implement the two primary elements of marketing communications: content creation and distribution. 

Elasticity’s mission is to create compelling and disruptive content and deliver it via a 360-degree marketing plan. They do this all-encompassing approach because getting people to pay attention to just one channel is rather challenging. 

The idea of bringing data and communications together can be attributed to Aaron’s background in media relations. He began his career as a producer in television and has always been passionate about creating interesting content. 

Throughout his career, he witnessed how the changes in the media landscape have sapped revenues out of many media outlets. Today, it’s important to think about what’s the most effective channel that can be used to reach someone; which platform makes an impact. For instance, you were able to land a four-to-five-page story on Fortune. But if you think about it, who is reading Fortune magazine today when everyone has already moved online?

Aaron and his partners’ vision is to use data to create content and a PR approach that integrates traditional media relations and social media. 

If you’re a media relations practitioner, you don’t want to go to 300 different media outlets to pitch a story. What you’d want is to go to the most effective ones to save time, energy, and resources. At Elasticity, their media buyers are using data to determine where they’d place their client’s money for advertising. This concept of data sharing makes their media relations practice far more effective. 

The same goes for content creation. Today, data dictates that you’re likely to get more attention if you upload a short, compelling video on Facebook rather than some static post, even if the latter also features compelling content.

The Rise of Data Targeting and Analytical Tools 

Elasticity uses proprietary tools and paid subscriptions to do data targeting and analysis. These include Nielsen and Facebook (which is free for anyone who has an account on the platform). 

Image from Unsplash

Aaron notes how Facebook has been a game-changer. On Facebook, if you have a million followers and you’re dropping content — only 3% of your followers are going to see it at most. However, if you boost your post even for a little amount, that number can dramatically broaden. You will not only be able to reach your current audience but new audiences as well. Facebook allows you to segment your data and reach new users. When Facebook did that, LinkedIn and Twitter among other platforms followed suit. 

Now, these platforms have become tremendous tools that can be used to deliver the right message to the right people. 

With the rise of these tools, the nature of what PR used to be — which is to release content with integrity chosen by an editor — has dramatically diminished. 

Today, even the so-called bastions of earned media also use pay-to-play opportunities. For example, Aaron mentions that Forbes has public relations and advertising councils and you can pay $1,200 per year to have your content published on Forbes. Several editorial contents on CNN or MSNBC are also actually paid ones as well. From a thought leadership perspective, it might be a heady thing but it’s still an advertising opportunity. 

Though lines are being blurred now, it doesn’t mean that there are no credible news opportunities anymore. But oftentimes, what media outlets are paying attention to are either industry goliaths and game-changers or unfortunate events happening worldwide. 

What’s a Disruptive Content

For you to catch attention, Aaron shares that you have to have disruptive content. 

Screengrab from Elastiicty’s website

When people hear the word “disruption,” there’s immediately a negative connotation to it. However, in this case, being disruptive means doing something different — not just different for you as a company but for your industry as a whole. An example of it would be what Elasticity did for H&R Block. 

H&R Block is a tax-processing firm and they process more tax returns than anyone else in the U.S. But if you’re a reporter, you’d prefer to broadcast something more interesting and disruptive, like what tax returns preparation software TurboTax is doing: To make sure that you can do it on video.

Elasticity, therefore, created a disruptive campaign for H&R Block called the Million Moustache March. For this campaign, they tapped a tax policy professor to write a white paper arguing that people with moustache should have a $250 tax deduction because they are improving good looks in America. Then, they also held a physical march from early February until the 15th of April, which is the deadline for filing tax returns. On Facebook, they encouraged people to show support by putting a branded moustache on their photos. Every time a consumer did it, H&R Block donated to a charity called Millions from One, which offers water access to third-world countries. 

Though it may sound a ridiculous argument, it was indeed disruptive to connect H&R block, moustaches, and a charitable endeavour altogether. It ended up being covered not just in the US but globally as well. It also generated great interaction online because it was different. In general, the campaign had amazing coverage although it was only a drop in the bucket from an investment standpoint (because H&R Block was also running traditional advertisements on paper media at the same time). 

Image from Elasticity

Aaron remarks that being disruptive can also mean doing something that is purely movement-oriented; something that can drive change and help improve humanity. It all comes down to finding a way to step out of the norm. 

Listening to Your Audience, Being Aware of What’s In

With their work with GoDaddy, a brand that was previously linked to racy advertising, Elasticity helped soften their image. The client wanted to appeal to the doers and entrepreneurs who need web services. For that campaign, Aaron and company used different colours and scenarios to bring to life different stories, which mostly involved female entrepreneurs. 

With the wide array of problems people are forwarding to Elasticity, Aaron points out a common denominator to what they do: Listening. 

Often, companies have these preconceived notions wherein they think that they already know what a customer wants; that they already know the answer to something. Instead of doing this, Elasticity steps back, gets rid of preconceived notions, looks at data and research about customers, and derives insights from that. He further emphasises that it’s not that difficult and expensive to research what people think of a certain brand.

Even if a particular strategy doesn’t appeal to your own sensibilities, you need to focus on how you’re serving your audience. If you’re trying to serve a specific demographic, it begins with throwing out any preconceived notions, looking at true data, and understanding what your audience really wants. 

Apart from listening, another important thing to do is paying attention to pop culture. Even if Aaron doesn’t know who Camilla Cabello is, if he would sell a product to 17-year-old girls, he’d need to know about figures like her. 

Being keen on what’s in can be seen on Elasticity’s Million Moustache March campaign. At the time of the campaign, young people everywhere were really getting into moustaches. The culture has evolved and there are a lot more people now with facial hair than in the past. 

Part of Elasticity’s approach when working with a brand is to identify which are the trends that they can jump on. This comes on top of what they can already do to make a campaign work with their client. So, it’s about looking at data and resources, throwing preconceptions out the door, being realistic and diagnostic about what customers want, and thinking about how that ties with a certain pop culture phenomenon or technology. 

The Power of Search

Traditionally, PR practitioners do not pay attention to search, which is a rather important aspect of digital marketing. 

Though search algorithms constantly change, search has become the ultimate arbiter of everything. It helps people find things, determine whether they want to work for you, whether they want to move somewhere, or whether they want to purchase a product. 

Based on experience, Aaron notes that search has been the most underappreciated aspect of reputation management of brand marketing. Everyone relies on search, whether it’s Google or YouTube. Even Facebook and Amazon (where you can find his disruptively titled book, “F!!ck Your Formula: Why Following Rules Is the Worst Marketing Decision You’ll Ever Make”) has search technology. Search, indeed, couldn’t be more important. 

Image from Aaron Perlut’s website

To learn more about Aaron and his firm Elasticity, visit their website, http://goeatelastic.com. And if you’re going to reach out to audiences and do some marketing, think about a 360-degree plan and take into account the touchpoints that have got to do with your brand.


This article is based on a transcript from my Podcast The UnNoticed, you can listen here.

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